The conversation about mental health in India opens. Better access to treatment comes next

  • There is growing recognition of the importance of mental health in India.
  • Meanwhile, its mental health sector remains severely underfunded.
  • India scores highly globally for positive attitudes towards seeking mental health treatment.

It can be difficult to track progress in any quality area. The complexity increases dramatically, especially when it comes to a complex sector like mental health. However, the findings of two recent independent reports indicate reason for optimism, as well as a better understanding of the problem.

As the leading cause of disability worldwide, mental illness is one of our most significant collective global challenges. In India, a culturally rich and complex nation, the scale of the problem can seem overwhelming. A severely understaffed sector is serving the world’s second most populous country in this battle with just 0.75 psychiatrists per 100,000 patients, as the WHO projects mental health issues will cost an estimated $1.03 trillion economic losses between 2012 and 2030 worldwide. Each intervention is therefore a priority; every action may seem a little too late, but we can’t afford to let that get in the way of our work.

Since its inception six years ago, LiveLoveLaugh has promoted a deeper and more open national conversation about mental health in India. A follow-up to a previous study in 2018, How India Views Mental Health aims to assess mental health knowledge, attitudes and practices.

Its findings offer us plenty of evidence for hope and a basis for action. In a shift in attitude towards mental health interventions, for example, 92% of those surveyed said they would support someone seeking treatment for a mental illness, a substantial jump from 54% in 2018.

The study also revealed a sea change in the general perception of people with mental illness with 65% – more than double the 32% in 2018 – believing that these people could hold a job and lead a stable and healthy life. Another 68% said people with mental illness can form meaningful relationships with friends, family and companions, which is an encouraging change in a country where the mental health sector is plagued by misinformation. .

But the study also pointed to several obstacles to progress. There are still significant gaps in the understanding of conditions such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and childhood disorders. Access to and understanding of mental health interventions remain low. Additionally, with popular beliefs including a supernatural basis for mental illness, doublethink and knowledge disparity across demographics remain considerable despite growing awareness.

The Wellcome Global Monitor: Mental Health, the world’s largest survey of how people view and deal with anxiety and depression, displays this dichotomy on a larger scale. The study surveyed more than 119,000 people in 113 countries and explored the perceived role of science in finding new solutions.

Its findings indicate a broad understanding of the role of mental health in well-being, with 92% of the public in all countries saying that mental health was as important or more important than physical health in all countries.

But, also a potential brake on progress, the study reveals another precious detail: people consider that science is more relevant to explain the functioning of the human body (46% say “a lot”) than the functioning of feelings and emotions ( 27% say “a little bit”). Consistent with this view, the public also said that science could treat infectious diseases or cancer (53% and 49% say “a lot”), but may be less effective against anxiety or depression (31% say “a lot”).

From an India-specific perspective, the Wellcome study found that public attitudes towards mental health in India are positive. In fact, the Indian sample showed one of the most open views on mental health, with 42% saying they would feel very comfortable talking to someone locally about anxiety and grief. depression, more than double the global rate of 19%. The Indian segment of the study also reflected the overall view of the role of science in mental health, noting science’s ability to explain mental illness but perhaps not treat it.

Both studies suggest that India is waking up to the reality and consequences of mental health while responding with openness and acceptance, highlighting the impact of education and access. However, this attitude needs to be supported at the systemic level.

With science, for example, we need to progress not only in finding new information, but also in communicating that understanding to a wide range of audiences. Additionally, policymakers, service providers, and educators must create robust systems that respond to the country’s severely underserved mental health needs. These frameworks must also take individual differences into account; from the cellular level to the societal level, people need personalization at all levels and autonomy to manage their mental health.

Anisha Padukone, Executive Director, Live Love Laugh Foundation

This article was previously published in the World Economic Forum.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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